Law
7:52 am
Sat January 4, 2014

Transgender Issues Follow Path Blazed By Gay Rights

Originally published on Sat January 4, 2014 1:38 pm

It may have been "the gayest year ever," as some gay and lesbian activists put it — 2013 saw the Defense of Marriage Act struck down by the Supreme Court and the number of states offering marriage rights to same-sex couples doubled, to a total of 18.

But as 2014 begins, another issue is gaining traction: transgender rights.

A new transgender rights law went into effect Jan. 1 in California. Called the School Success and Opportunity Act, the law allows students to use the facilities consistent with their gender identity and to play on sports teams, and adds protections against bullying and harassment.

Transgender stories have registered in the media recently, too. Chelsea Manning, who came to prominence as Bradley Manning, is now in prison, convicted of leaking classified government information.

And a transgender character in Netflix's new series, Orange Is the New Black, was named one of Time magazine's most influential fictional characters of 2013.

Ross Murray, news director for GLAAD, an organization of gay and lesbian activists, says the character played by actress Laverne Cox — who is transgender herself — shows the complexity of transgender life that most people don't usually see.

"Most of the time in the media, on the news side of things, transgender people are often just the victims of violence, and they are not talked about until after they have been attacked and perhaps murdered — which happened a lot also in 2013," Ross says in an interview with NPR's Linda Wertheimer.

"A character like Laverne Cox's character in Orange Is the New Black helped to provide a much richer character that people could actually relate to."


Interview Highlights

On public understanding of transgender issues vs. gay rights issues

It registers a lot less. I think that the support for marriage equality has been following the recognition that people know someone who is gay [or] lesbian, and once they feel like they know and have a relationship with someone,then they understand that folks need protections and responsibilities just like everyone else. The transgender visibility has not been as high. I think as the familiarity is going to increase, then some of those same protections are going to follow.

On other laws involving transgender rights

There's a lot of work this year, and I think something we're going to see in 2014 is a greater push for transgender-inclusive health care. Connecticut just became the fifth state to require transgender medical coverage, sending a directive to health insurance companies that operate within the state that they should include benefits for transgender people and transgender-specific care.

On the issue of transgender people and health care

Transgender people are denied health care, both for transition services — things like hormones — and sometimes even within private insurance the services that are covered are gender-specific, and so if someone, say, was born a man, suddenly they are excluded from receiving mammograms or issues for breast cancer. Those are things that need to get fixed to create consistent health care for transgender people.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

2013 may have been, as some gay and lesbian activists put it, the gayest year ever. The Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court, 18 states now extend marriage rights to same sex couples, the number of states now offering those rights more than doubled in just one year. But as we begin 2014, there's another issue gaining traction - transgender rights. Ross Murray is the director of news at an organization of gay and lesbian activists called GLAAD. He joins us from our New York bureau. Thank you very much for doing this, Ross.

ROSS MURRAY: Thank you for having me here.

WERTHEIMER: Now, are transgendered issues something that registered all for most Americans?

MURRAY: It registers a lot less. I think that the support for marriage equality has been following the recognition that people know someone who is gay and lesbian. And once they feel like they know and have a relationship with someone, then they understand that folks need protections and responsibilities just like everyone else. And the transgender visibility has not been as high. I think as the familiarity is going to increase then some of those same protections are going to follow.

WERTHEIMER: Now, 2014 is starting off with a new transgender rights law in California. Can you tell us about that?

MURRAY: Sure. It's called the School Success and Opportunity Act. It went into effect on January 1st. And this is the law that provides basic protections for transgender students at school. It allows them to use the facilities consistent with their gender identity, allowing them to play on sports teams, adding protections against bullying and harassment.

WERTHEIMER: What about other states? Are you looking at anything else that's going on?

MURRAY: There's a lot of work this year, and I think something we're going to see in 2014 is a greater push for transgender-inclusive health care. Connecticut just became the fifth state to require transgender medical coverage, sending a directive to health insurance companies that operate within the state that they should include benefits for transgender and transgender-specific care.

WERTHEIMER: So, is the issue that sex reassignment is not included?

MURRAY: Transgender people are denied health care both for transition services, things like hormones, things like that. And sometimes, even within private insurance, the services that are covered are gender-specific. And so, if someone, say, is born a man, suddenly they're excluded from receiving mammograms or issues for breast cancer, and those are things that need to get fixed in terms to create consistent health care for transgender people.

WERTHEIMER: There was a certain amount of publicity for transgender people in 2013. There is the Netflix TV series "Orange is the New Black," which has a transgender character who was named one of the most influential people of 2013. Do you think that has the potential to change anything?

MURRAY: I think so. One, I think that having that visibility and a fictional story that tells the story of a complex person. Most of the time in the media, on the news side of things, transgender people are often just the victims of violence and they're not talked about until after they have been attacked and perhaps murdered, which it happened a lot also in 2013. In a character like Laverne Cox's character in "Orange is the New Black," helped to provide a much richer character that people could actually relate to. One of the things we've talking about on the news side of GLAAD is that we shouldn't just be hearing about transgender people after they're the victims of violence; we need to be hearing about their lives when they're living - what they go through, what their accomplishments are.

WERTHEIMER: That's Ross Murray. He is the news director at GLAAD. Ross Murray, thank you so much for doing this.

MURRAY: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.